Philosophical Fragments, written under the pseudonym ‘Johannes Climacus,’ is an important component of his philosophical and theological explication, explaining the conceptual distinction between Greek and religious philosophy.
Soren Kierkegaard used Johannes Climacus to explain his ideas about how the concept of self fits into faith’s vast eternity.
In Philosophical Fragments, he starts with Greek Platonic philosophy, delving into the ramifications of moving beyond the Socratic knowledge of truth received via recall to the Christian experience of truth received through grace.
Climacus explains in the context of Socrates and human cognition in the opening of Chapter III, The Absolute Paradox. This chapter reveals Kierkegaard’s existential beliefs, religious prejudices, and writing style so I will form my essay around answering whether or not his Absolute Paradox (AP) is successful in demonstrating ideas about the problems of a purely rational life.
According to logic, the infinite cannot be reduced to a finite state.
Faith in Christ, on the other hand, necessitates belief in the infinite becoming limited. In the world of reason, the AP is a contradiction.
Climacus argues that human beings have the capacity to comprehend and transcend anything beyond their own reasoning and that this process is the basis of all thinking.
This innate conviction permits humans to overlook the fact that some things, such as God and Christianity, are beyond human comprehension. Every person, though, continues to assume that they can grasp it.
Those who were present at the time when God assumed the incarnation of Christ were unable to comprehend him. Even the most common Christian is unable to grasp Christ.
His rationalism prevents him from even conceiving. He’s approaching AP from a fork in the road. He is driven away from AP by reason. So the only way to get to AP is through a ‘moment of trust,’ as Kierkegaard calls it.
The ‘moment of faith’ necessitates a huge leap of faith based on divine personal change, but how does all of this make sense when you set up this difficulty in the hopes of making the ‘moment of faith’ a qualitative choice?
Only if, according to Kierkegaard, the ‘moment of faith’ is a contradiction and a marvel in and of itself, like the AP. The supernatural conditioners are the driving force behind it all.
Unlike Hegelianism, a philosophical theory that devalued Christianity by fostering logical reason in order to comprehend God’s ‘modern’ existence, Kierkegaard felt God transcended human reasoning.
He felt that to be a “follower” of a faith one must have made the decision to follow that faith. Being born into faith doesn’t mean you’re a follower. He did hold however that people who decide to be religious through reason, miss the point of what it means to have faith. Trying to give a satisfactory answer to God’s existence and nature through reason is nigh impossible and will only result in objective uncertainty, not clarity. In the face of this objective uncertainty, Kierkegaard thinks we might as well choose subjectively.
Like a great painting or great piece of music, one can know what paint was used, what music theory went into a piece, but can one say that they fully understood the piece, that they fully know the truth of its worth? Kierkegaard says no, truth, and the formulation of a truth must have some involvement from the person. Becoming a follower is something that can’t be given second-hand, that would be a contradiction; the idea of being born into being a follower against your will is a contradiction so important that many of Kierkegaard’s ideas on individuality can be understood in terms of this.
Nobody can take a leap to faith for you.
Socrates believed that the truth was self-actualization, which was something that everyone already had inside them but that only a good teacher could help them discover and resurface as an actualised being. The Greek tradition was diametrically opposed to God. Kierkegaard sympathised with the Greeks, also trying to answer the call to authenticity but through a Christian lens.
The one-time teacher, Jesus Christ, was the truth for him and that everybody is born with innate ideas about God. Between Socrates and Kierkegaard, there is a distinction between reforming and changing. The Greeks thought that the truth helped a person to grow into a better version of his or herself, but Climacus spoke about how the truth fully re-created a person.
For Kierkegaard, truth is everlasting and without precedent. When it comes to eternal existence, the truth is not a single revelation that is useless or has no meaning.
Climacus’ absolute paradox in this sense is that man is completely distinct from God and truth. Jesus was a man conceived without sin and continued to not sin. This was what made him divine.
The understanding of human guilt and the leap of faith that humans take when they begin to believe something that cannot be explained logically are the foundations of the absolute paradox.
This is only the beginning of the contradiction, as the learner becomes the ‘untruth,’ the antithesis of God and the embodiment of sin.
Climacus sees the Moment of the arrival of Jesus to redeem humankind from sin. Someone can grasp that Jesus is God and Savior after they recognise they are sinful and different from Jesus, which is something that cannot be stated intellectually..
Jesus disguised himself as a carpenter in order to connect with people and spread the Christian message after all.
Climacus cited another example of the King disguised in peasant garb to illustrate his point. Many folk and fairy tales use this notion of nobility in disguise to get the main characters to accept what the strong are saying.
According to Climacus, man is a servant, especially to God, and Jesus manifested as God in human form so that man may relate to him and attain the “gift” that is divine knowledge.
Kierkegaard valued the meaning of life and the individual’s search for his position in the complex web of religion. He wrote on how the individual is unimportant, but that humans want to be valuable, which they can only do through trust in God.
In this way, religion is somewhat illogical, as it is a departure from reason. Humans may be capable of both faith and rationality, but they are unable to combine both into the same concept.
His postmodernist ideas are represented here because he rejects the necessity of the time to question the irrational because it was considered Hegelian “modernism” to question what cannot be explained.
For me he is sometimes hard to follow. In an early chapter he emphasises the role of the teacher-savior, then in a lter one, he returns to the “contemporary disciple.”
The Absolute Paradox is discussed by Climacus, who then connects it to the “Moment”. In this book, his thoughts are all interconnected and part of the same overall argument. His thought pattern is a little perplexing and difficult to follow, because, like faith, it is a non-concrete concept that is difficult to understand.
This is why some people read this text as quite ironic.
For Kierkegaard, the idea of the AP isn’t to explain God’s existence, but to comprehend that faith is a concept that can’t be dismissed as useless.
What I think he is saying is that you ultimately can’t live your life solely on the basis of reason, a point that Kant made also. Some ethical positions in life cannot be reduced to purely rational considerations.
If I were to see an old woman on the street who’s about to be hit by a bus, my pure rational instinct might be to not do anything to save my own skin.
But, regardless of what reason would say, my passion (which is what he is appealing to) could be to save that person and put my life on the line.
If you’re Nelson Mandela, pure reason could tell you not to resist Apartheid again since it may put you in prison for 27 years with a shattered family and personal life. However, your devotion may push you to take a risk and make a sacrifice for the sake of your countrymen.
Pure reason could tell you not to demonstrate against the Nazis if you’re Dietrich Bonhoeffer, since you’re against a totalitarian state that may execute you. However, your heart tells you that you must defend the innocent, which may necessitate taking a leap of faith that may even mean laying down your life for others.
This reasoning only applies if you accept the assumption that the actions of Mandela and Bonhoeffer aren’t rational – that pure reason would lead you to think that your own life is worth more than the lives of countless others.
But it could depend on what Kiekegaard means by reason.
Self-interested ethics does not always imply reason. For Kiekegaard, ‘logic’ and ‘reason’ are only instruments to help you achieve your goals, whether it’s preventing an elderly person from being struck by a bus or saving your own skin. Passion and reasoning are not mutually exclusive for Kiekegaard. Passion is the polar opposite of indifference. Reasoning and logic may be useful tools for guiding passion to grow and spread.
Kierkegaard is ultimately responding to Hegel , who said that history is following a rational path that inevitably leads to a fully rational state of things. He too also disliked organised Christianity, which he believes dictates rigid and dogmatic lifestyles.
I agree with a lot of Kierkegaard’s points. Reason cannot be an aim in itself; else, existence would be meaningless. For instance, I eat to live, work to live, work to earn money, and use money to eat. Because there is no ultimate goal, it doesn’t matter if I die today or never.
However, if I accomplish something that has no rational reason but gives my life significance in my own thinking, such as making art, my life will have served a purpose, and everything else supporting my life will become justifiable.
‘means of the melancholy irony, which did not consist in any single utterance on the part of Johannes Climacus but in his whole life. . . . Johannes does what we are told to do–he actually doubts everything–he suffers through all the pain of doing that, becomes cunning, and almost acquires a bad conscience. When he has gone as far in that direction as he can go and wants to come back, he cannot do so. . . . Now he despairs, his life is wasted, his youth is spent in these deliberations. Life does not acquire any meaning for him, and all this is the fault of philosophy.’
I read this as Climacus spending his whole life caught up in deliberating between choices that he had. Ultimately never choosing any and in doing so, rid his life of any passion, and his character of any development.
The melancholic nature of his writing shines here, with each word expressing sentiments we all feel at times such as doubt.
Doubt in whether or not we made the right choice or doubt in ourselves and our potential. These feelings are what many feel when asked if they have lived an accomplished life.
“Marry, and you will regret it; don’t marry, you will also regret it; marry or don’t marry, you will regret it either way. Laugh at the world’s foolishness, you will regret it; weep over it, you will regret that too; laugh at the world’s foolishness or weep over it, you will regret both. Believe a woman, you will regret it; believe her not, you will also regret it: Hang yourself, you will regret it; do not hang yourself, and you will regret that too; hang yourself or don’t hang yourself, you’ll regret it either way; whether you hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret both. This, gentlemen, is the essence of all philosophy.”
The irony of the absolute paradox is not lost on Kierkegaard like many think.
He was well aware that his logic is circular and paradoxical in of itself.
Kierkegaard begins with the assumption that God exists, then proceeds on to God’s characteristics. The proof of God’s existence comes from the idea that he exists. Kierkegaard recognises that this is deceptive circular reasoning, but he rejects both the description and the idea that logic is superior to faith. He dismisses everything in favour of blind faith.
The value of reason in leading a good life has significantly dwindled for me after reading The Philosophical Fragments. I can speak only for myself when I say, through the use of his Absolute Paradox, I have been convinced by much of what Kirkegaard says about reason and how it can be a detriment. I am still in a puzzle as to whether or not he succeeded in converting me to take a leap of faith into religion, however he still definitely succeeded in helping me realise that sometimes life has no absolute meaning or reason.
We must paradoxically, pun intended, create our own and in doing so should create amongst others with a mind empty of regret and full of humour.